Two LA Firsts: A Transparent Musical and ‘Keith Haring: Art is for Everyone’

By Sarah Spitz

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Two LA Firsts: A Transparent Musical  and ‘Keith Haring: Art is for Everyone’
Photo by Craig Schwartz A Transparent Musical. Through June 25 at The Mark Taper Forum. From left, Sarah Stiles, Adina Verson, Zachary Prince 
When a musical is as culturally ground-breaking as A Transparent Musical (onstage at the Mark Taper Forum until June 25), it’s hard to be overly critical. In case you don’t remember the hit Amazon Prime TV series, Transparent, it was the story of the Pfeffermans, a neurotic Jewish family, whose patriarch recognizes that his lifelong internal struggle has been gender identity, choosing to undergo surgery and become the woman she knew she always was. Maura’s uncertainty is at the root of all the issues that consume the family: from the sex-addict son (Zachary Prince as Josh) to pharma-reliant daughter (Sarah Stiles as Sarah) trying to keep her marriage together with brain-altering chemicals, and gender-non-conforming younger daughter Ali (Adina Verson), who explores her identity in physical, emotional and spiritual ways and is the central figure in this play. In the TV series, Morty/Maura was played by Jeffrey Tambor and it took a while to build up to the revelation of Maura’s true identity, as well as the actual transition surgery. In this musical, the action of the play kicks off when Maura (Daya Curley) gathers the family for bagels and brunch to tell them that she is now the woman she always felt herself to be, and that they need to get used to the idea. The performance begins before the actual play does. We overhear conversations and gossip between actors running up and down the aisles, on and off the stage, while organizing the Purim festival at the Camille J. Janowsky Jewish Community Center (CJJ JCC, one of a number of “mirroring” themes that play out in the musical), asking people to become members, requesting the person whose car is blocking the driveway to move it, and making the kinds of public announcements you hear at community events. Maura shows up dressed as a woman, causing the family to react with confusion and embarrassment. There are other storylines as well: Davina (Peppermint) meets resistance from the JCC Board to an LGBTQ+ group she wants to convene, and discovers that Ezra (Kasper), the intern she’s hired, is actually her estranged nephew. And Ali (the youngest daughter) uncovers the history of a secret uncle who existed in the Nazi era when Jews and homosexuals were targeted for extermination. This play features cisgender, transgender, non-binary and queer performers; the songs are anthems to self-belief and pride, and testament to the fact that in real life, things don’t exist in just black or white. Where the musical falls down is in some of the performances and trying to incorporate one too many story lines. Maura (Daya Curley) is not a terrific singer; the wife, Shelly (Liz Larson) chews the scenery with her over-the-top reaction to Maura’s life-altering decision and her own desire to create a one-woman show, “The Other Woman is a Woman.” Ali time-travels to Nazi-era “decadent” Berlin to try and find her cross-dressing “deviant” uncle in a wild cabaret scene that stops the show. It’s important to acknowledge and applaud the courage it takes to be true to oneself in a world that is stacked against you and growing more hostile daily. But in the world of musical theatre, you want to come out humming a tune or two and that just doesn’t happen here. Nevertheless, this world premiere is likely to move on to Broadway. I look forward to seeing what changes will make it both more believable and coherent. Keith Haring at The Broad Need a little color in your life? Get thee to The Broad in downtown LA, where the first-ever Los Angeles retrospective of Keith Haring’s work is on view in a vast exhibition that will thrill your eyes. You know his work even if you don’t think you do: you’ve seen the outlined cartoon figures, the “radiant baby,” the barking dogs, the graffiti-like scrawls in hot reds, blacks and yellows, the AIDS posters, the enormous black and white “subway drawings” that first launched him into the public eye. Haring died too young of complications from AIDS (he was 31) but in his brief career, he had a major impact on graphic arts between 1980, when he attended SVA (School of Visual Arts in New York) and his death in 1990. He’s among the famous artists of the era, some of whom also influenced him, like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and writer William Burroughs to name just a few. If there is a single word that defines his art, it’s “line,” the continuous flow of energy that poured out of him especially in public settings, when, as he said in a 1984 interview in Flash Art, “There was no turning back. Many times I put myself in situations where I am drawing in public. Whatever marks I make are immediately recorded and immediately on view. There are no ‘mistakes’ because nothing can be erased.” Operating in the Reagan era, Haring became an AIDS activist, whose work sometimes portrayed the crucifix as a weapon and the penis as a towering symbol of strength. It’s worth the time to look closely at these images, and wonder, as Haring had to, whether he had weeks or years to continue living and how best to use his remaining time. “Keith Haring: Art is for Everyone” is on view through October 8 at The Broad, 221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.
“Installation View Keith Haring: Art is For Everyone” at The Broad through October 8, 2023

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